In past editions of this column, I have written about some of the issues that come along with high THC content products. Now, some of those same concerns have made it into America’s paper of record. 

On June 23, the New York Times reported on recent studies and firsthand evidence that have come to similar conclusions. In short, the intense amounts of THC now normalized among young consumers can have serious and long lasting negative effects.  

In Greek, farmakeio, the root of our word “pharmacy,” means both medicine and poison. So often we talk about the ancient roots of cannabis use for healing to legitimize the importance of access today. Yet the modern intellect too often emphasizes either the good or the bad of a thing, rarely taking both sides together. This is the greatest wisdom of the ancients lost to the thinking of today. 

What the Greeks understood about medicine and plants seems lost on the cannabis users of today. The same happened with the co-opting of the physical substance of mushrooms and peyote by the hippies without grasping or honoring the spiritual component of those substances. Are we making the same mistake again? And what will be the consequences?

The recent reports suggest dire consequences for some who regularly use high amounts of THC, including psychosis, loss of consciousness, depression, and a new one to me, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome—basically extended vomiting. They didn’t mention seizures, but I enjoyed one of those myself at age 20, the first time I was alone with a bong. While the report focuses on effects on youth whose developing brains are particularly vulnerable, I suggest that the impacts can be as important for those users of any age who unwittingly jump to max doses.  

Honor the plant and its power, or suffer the consequences. When a teenager tells me that she needs 100mg of edibles to get high, or an aloof budtender fails to mention that the cart he’s recommending to this here 50 year old has 92% THC, or a floating dab-head stumbles through the basics of some transaction, I am reminded of the line from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: “To have difficulty [and not know it is] true difficulty.”

Here we have scientific evidence that the high doses that are more and more common today have consequences that moderate use does not. At some point, the plant flips from medicine to poison. The followers of the Tao, the mystery festivals of the ancient Greeks, the Native American Church and the traditions it is built upon have all understood and honored the power and dangers of spiritual medicines. Are we equipped to do the same, or has cannabis become just another example of the American appetite for more and faster?

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